Hundreds of people gathered outside the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson on Saturday and prayed for jailed Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. James Crisp/Special to The C-J
James Crisp / special to The Courier-Journall
An honor and a problem were bestowed on me recently: an induction into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame and my confusion as to how to proceed.
Over 500 people, from all over the state, came to honor all the nominees and inductees, on Sept. 21. Here is the background.
A colleague called me, a number of months ago, to say he wanted to nominate me. I was flattered, yet wasn’t sure what to do. Why was I unsure?
No. 1, I would like to think that my social justice work, over almost six decades, has been for a better world, not for recognition. Yet, I worried: Is ego at play here?
No. 2, Kentucky now has a right-wing and anti-labor governor and an ultra-conservative majority in our state legislature. Administering the Hall of Fame awards is the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR), a state agency.
Its budget, never huge to begin with, faces the possibility of severe slashing. I know the KCHR’s executive director. He is a righteous soul, forced to sit silently while his agency is being gutted and he is being laughed at by the higher-ups.
Well, I then contacted two long-time progressive activists separately. Both said the same thing: accept the award. It will possibly give you access to audiences you might not otherwise have — at a time when the neo-fascist McCarthyism of the 1950’s is being disinterred.
So, I got all gussied up and hauled myself down to accept the award. I also tried to rise to the dignity of the occasion with proper comportment (I do have a photo of me accepting the award, standing between the executive director and one other higher-up —and me giving a clenched-fist salute).
And then I looked at the program brochure. One of the nominees (thankfully, at least not an actual inductee) was Kim Davis. Davis was the Kentucky county clerk who gained notoriety in 2015 when she defied a U.S. federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and was briefly jailed. Note: I too have a jail record; but it was for fighting for civil rights, not against civil rights.
As if this was not disgusting enough, here is part of the bio-printed about her in the program of the gala affair in which I, too, had a bio printed: “A person who nominated Ms. Davis … said (she) said she went to jail to support her religious beliefs.”
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All that is needed for nominations to be accepted are letters of recommendation from three people. Listen up, Ku Klux Klan: Send in three letters, and your Grand Cyclops can get nominated, with bio printed in the human rights event’s journal.
We now have a U.S. president rolling back the civil rights gains won in the 1960’s, gotten thru sacrifice, jailing and sometimes martyrdom. And a Kentucky governor marching in lock-step. And the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission hardly, if ever, finding probable cause in discrimination complaints and seldom, if ever, seriously questioning non-discrimination policies of contractors and vendors doing business with the city.
And here am I, accepting an honor in such a climate. The tensions created by the Tory ethos we now confront will not be eased without serious analysis and action.
This is not the first time I have witnessed a rollback of civil rights enforcement. In the 1980’s President Reagan appointed Clarence Thomas to head the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and Mr. Thomas began to objectively shred the enforcement provisions against discrimination, i.e. the successes brought about by the pressure of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Thomas was rewarded for his duplicity by appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Back then, I was vice-chair of the old Louisville and Jefferson County Human Relations Commission and chaired the panel that ruled on discrimination complaints. I clearly remember telling the compliance supervisor of the commission to never send pattern-and-practice complaints to the EEOC, but instead to handle them in-house.
Now, as back then, there is a sophisticated (and not always sophisticated) executive,…
Authored by Janine Maureen